Thailand – Round 1 – Diving and WHALE SHARK!

Arrival in Bangkok from Tokyo. Not as nice a flight as some others we have had. Oh well. We survived!

While driving to the hotel in a taxi, we saw our first Tuk Tuk and an insane number of people on a scooter.

 

That’s two women, three children PLUS a baby. WHAT??

In Bangkok we booked a hotel. With a gym and a spa and a pool. We were near the famous Koh San road which is a bustling street of shops bars and food carts.

Of course, I had to check it out. It was very entertaining. As were the shops on the route there. There were silver shops too. Some were just wholesale. Others retail. I saw some tempting foods being sold by the cart vendors on Koh San Road – Mango rice and sugar cane juice and fresh fruits. And of course beetles, and scorpions and other various bugs. ON A STICK! HA! I was a tad concerned about cleanliness so I didn’t eat anything from there. I had a nice dinner at a restaurant across the street from our hotel. And a very expensive bottle of wine. Beer is pretty cheap in Thailand. But wine is expensive. Even for the crappy stuff ha

One thing I found shopping was this bag. Laney had wanted one in Japan but they cost $90! In Bangkok, $20. WIN! We also bought what I call ‘harem pants’. Thin cotton baggy pants with elastic waist, very comfy for travelling in hot weather.

 

Mainly in Bangkok we recovered. The two tours in a row exhausted us. It was great spending the few days doing some casual wandering. Going to the gym, getting massages and sometimes eating room service. I mean, when room service costs about $5, why not? Ha. Sorry Bangkok. Even extending our stay by a couple nights we didn’t see much of anything. Yes, we should have seen the reclining Buddha, etc but honestly we had seen so much in the way of ‘man made wonders’ in Japan, we were worn out.

Yummy Room Service above. This time Indian, with NAAN BREAD YUM!!

 

Above, and below, is the door to the massage room at the spa at the hotel it’s a clever, simple door lock and I thought it was neat!


 

Laney and I getting pumped. HA!

I really liked this display in the hotel gym. Representation of all the Olympic Games and where they were held. It was motivating and educational. We noticed that two ‘games’ were missing. Cancelled due to WWII. Very interesting.

There was this really beautiful zen/chill area also on the gym/pool/spa floor of the hotel. Like a rooftop area. There were very friendly Koi fish, and beautiful platforms just for chilling.

A towel elephant on our bed. So cute.

 

 

Above, check out that ‘scaffolding’ – it’s two pieces of bamboo and the guy balances on them in bare feet. Him painting that was one thing. The other guy carried up 3 bags of cement that same way!! YIKES!

This was the view from the gym/pool area. There were a variety of shops along the street, some what ‘shanty’ style.  You can see that some buildings look brand new, while others are looking a little rough.

Laney and I did have a nice dinner at a nearby pub/Bar and had some nice conversations there. As well as some really good beer. I was entertained at the list of American Beers.

 

 

 

The cashews were SO GOOD. Basically sautéed in a pan with some chilli sauce (I think) and some Thai peppers. They were spicy and SO GOOD. I did NOT eat the peppers. HA. The Cashews alone were hot enough to encourage lots of beer drinking. I bet these could be easily made at home though. YUM

 

 

 

 

 

The first few nights in Bangkok, there was a celebration outside the hotel so I got to see this cool dragon that sprayed water and spat fire. It was controlled by multiple people. You can see in the pic below there are people at the bottom and people all the way up to the top. Very cool.  Unfortunately with all the spotlights getting a good picture was nearly impossible.

 

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One cool thing we did in Bangkok was a ‘Airbnb Experience’. This is a new version of booking a tour/excursion with TripAdvisor (or Viator). Only the Airbnb Experiences are supposed to be more unique. This certainly was. We attended an authentic Thai dinner, cooked in-the-home by our hostess and her helper. Even better, the evening starts with a tour of the hostess’s garden, where she shows you some of the ingredients growing. Including Kaffir leaves, and some fruit, and other herbs. There were 5 courses – some things were familiar and some were not. One unique item was fried flowers! Very cool. They are dipped in a batter and deep fried. I guess this just proves that anything fried tastes good. HA!  The food was amazing, the hostess so gracious. We shared the evening with a couple from Singapore and (his or her?) parents. The parents didn’t speak much English, but everyone was really nice. Our hostess also had 4 cats (her listing for both ‘staying’ with her, as she is also an Airbnb hostess in the traditional sense, and for the dinner included the phrase ‘for Cat Lovers’. HA. Good idea. these were some pretty friendly cats. Laney and I enjoyed having the cats around.  Can you believe the one cat ate pumpkin? Weird. The pumpkin was part of our pumpkin custard dessert, which is custard baked inside of a pumpkin (in this case not an orange pumpkin but a green striped one). It was amazing! YAY FOOD!

This (above) is the fried flowers being made. Flower, batter, fryer, done! And the flowers are so pretty too!!

These are the ingredients before she started cooking.

One thing I noticed, the bowl of slightly brown liquid had contained dried mushrooms, which were soaked in water, and she added this water to the soup later – similar to how the Polish recipe is done for Polish Mushroom Soup.

The dishes include sautéed cabbage, fried flowers, meat with basil (darker in colour), shrimp pad Thai I think, and lastly a curry soup. It was all amazing.

This is the custard which is baked inside the pumpkin. First you cut a hole in the top (of a raw pumpkin), and clear out the seeds, then you fill it with the custard and bake the whole thing. Our hostess said it’s tricky to get it to the right ‘doneness’.

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A cat that eats pumpkin. HA!

Our hostess mentioned that, between her own Airbnb ‘rooms for rent’, managing a few other Airbnb rentals for people, and the cooking, she is planning to ‘quit her day job’ soon. Awesome. She says she can manage the properties remotely so she’s looking to do some travelling.

After Bangkok we were due to get to Koh Tao for our scuba certifications. I was told the overnight train was the way to go. Unfortunately I hadn’t booked enough in advance to get a first class cabin, but was told the second class could be fun because you get to meet more people.

Another adventure awaits. HA

So we attempted an Uber to the train station but after 25 minutes of the Uber app telling us he was 5 minutes away we gave up. And took a taxi. HA.

The taxi dropped is at the train station, but we needed to get across the street to a “gray building” to get our tickets that we had ordered online. Well. Not just a street but a few streets. And quite busy ones!  With our luggage! And we knew this because a nice Thai man took pity on our obviously confused faces and asked something like ‘pick up tickets?’ And pointed to the building. I thought Laney was going to killl me for our attempted crossing. It was pretty crazy. At one point we got stuck in the middle of the road (between lanes). YIKES. We got there. Alive and well. We waited a bit. Got our tickets and then I asked if there was an easier way to get back to catch the train. Yup. Around the corner. No streets to cross. And go underground. Yay!  (I got death look from Laney, though). Hey you don’t know what you don’t know right!!

I had planned to get something to eat in the train station. That turned it to be a mistake. Nothing in the food court looked particularly clean to be honest. So we settled for packaged food of some kind from the convenience store in the train station. I think nuts and water, or a candy bar. HA.

We waited a while for the train. During which there was some kind of ‘hail to the king’ thing that happened. Music came on and everyone stood and faced the big picture of the king on the wall. Around Bangkok there are many pictures of the king. We learned later in Koh Tao that the king had passed away about a year ago. And the country mourned for nearly a year. Including a serious restriction on tourist partying – so some of the southern Thailand tourism business suffered greatly. Hmmm.

Anyway the train was definitely interesting. I had booked seats for Laney and I next to each other. Our seats would convert to a flat bed, this would be the lower bunk for me. And a top bunk would fold down from the ceiling for Laney. The staff supposedly handled all of that. Including fresh linens, pillows, etc. I was curious to see….

These are the bunks, to and bottom, with fresh sheets and blankets. Not too shabby considering

This is me sitting in the lower bunk (with my kindle)

After a short time someone came through asking for food orders. I knew we could go to the food car for food –  but honestly we were just so tired. And frankly a bit nervous about leaving our stuff behind unattended. A lovely Thai woman brought the food to our seats. A nearly-toothless guy kept wandering up and down  the isle offering beer. Which we turned down – I wanted to have all of my wits about me being surrounded by strangers and sleeping. Ha. The guy nearly insisted Laney have one though. Almost forced one into her hands with a toothless grin. Ha. He was being nice I guess. Laney managed to turn him down nicely.

Well, after getting past some motion sickness (night/dark/movement = nausea) Laney ended up sleeping on the lower bunk with me. It wasn’t even as big as a twin bed so we were shoulder to shoulder. We managed to sleep some. Ha. Pretty well, actually, considering!!

Travel tip for everyone. I was told by Matt that antihistamines can help with nausea. Twice now, on this train and on a ferry also in Thailand, I gave Laney a Claritin and it seemed to do the trick! Best part is, you can take it after the nausea sets in, and it doesn’t cause sleepiness!!! WIN!

13 or 14 hours later, we arrived at the train station, and Checked in with the transport company counter at the station.

Side Note: It’s a great system they have, this transport company. They put together the train and a bus and a ferry in one package/price/plan, and they align the times for you. A huge help when trying to get from Bangkok in north/central Thailand to the southern Thai islands.. Also, when you check in (in this case, after the train ride) they put a sticker on you. It’s color coded for where you are going. Same for your bag. It seemed stupid to me at first – I was feeling a bit embarrassed to be treated like an idiot….but then I realized it makes good sense. Even though the staff all speaks English the accent sometimes gets in the way and you don’t entirely understand what they are telling you. This way (and this happened to us one one of these types of journeys) when at a ferry stop, and they instruct certain passengers to get off (by destination name) they can look through the cabin and see if anyone has remained that should have gotten off. So everyone gets where they are going. In my defense – when it happened to us –  it was a ferry transfer and we didn’t know we HAD a transfer or where it was.  I thought the ferry was going to the island we were headed to. And there is no map like a train of stops etc. and no one was able to explain to me in a way I could understand.(i.e. language/accent barrier) Ha. So I was humbled. And I understood why we were being treated like kindergarteners on field trip (marching t shirts etc). Ha. And I was grateful. !!!

Here’s my ‘travel for dummies’ sticker. HA

Anyway, we waited a while for the bus (during which Laney saw a rat, or so she claimed, in the garden bed behind where I was sitting. HA) – the bus ride was maybe 40 minutes then check in again, get on the ferry, and that was a couple hours with a few stops before ours. Then, we got there, found the driver for our resort in the chaos, and got a ride on what I would call a tuk tuk ‘bus’ (drives many people, kind of golf-cart style) to our room.

Our room turned out to be pretty crappy even though we paid for the upgrade to AC. Apparently that just gets you the OLDEST room where they have slapped an AC unit on the wall. UGG.

We explored the area a bit then rested.

We visited the onsite bar and restaurant for dinner and attended our first ‘meeting’ for our scuba class. Our instructor was immediately hilarious and engaging. I could tell it was going to be fun. We had an interesting mix of people in a relatively small class of 6 students, and we had the advantage of a very experienced instructor and 2 ‘instructors in training’ which is awesome. We did some video watching that evening, and then the next morning we did some instruction next to the pool (plus the reading on the night between), then we were IN THE POOL swimming and practicing with the equipment. All went well. Laney did amazing. She seemed to master bouancy so quickly (the goal being a balance of your weight, additional weights, air in your BC/vest and your breath to stay suspended in the water, neither on the bottom nor floating up).

The next morning, we took our first training dive! Out on the boat we went!

The course was great, so much better than when I took it in NJ. It seemed then, we had like 4 Saturdays of instruction and testing before we got in the pool and my instructors were so high strung it made me nervous.  Not the case here. Andy thought that experience was the best teacher and he was so right.

We made good friends during that course. Each day instead of sitting in the classroom for our ‘out of water teaching’ we went to a nearby restaurant/bar and ate AMAZING and CHEAP food and had a few drinks.  Needless to say, each afternoon resulted in a nap and most times dinner was unnecessary. HA.

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One night, I went out after dinner with the other ‘grown ups’. Got to see the fire dancers. Pretty cool

 

These beautiful buildings were near Bingo’s – that great restaurant we met at every day. We also got to see some ADORABLE baby chickens there, as well. Lots of chickens running around ‘wild’ in Thailand. ha.

There was a pretty nice beach near our resort, which is called Ban’s, and some nice sunsets from the bar and restaurant. Most nights there was live entertainment too. They’re no Melanie and Tony, but it was still nice.

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Oh, and we decided to take the Advanced course, with the same group of people (minus one) and the same instructors – all 3. AND, the instructor spoke to the office and got us a MASSIVE upgrade to a LOVELY room. WIN! YAY! Oh and now we had room service. WHOO HOO!!

Of course, I had to shift a few things ‘forward’ to accommodate these additional days on Koh Tao.  I had to shorten our stay in Ao Nang, Thailand,  (west side of southern Thailand) but it all worked out OK. Turns out, after all the diving, (like 9 dives in 5 days) I got sick and spent the Ao Nang time in bed anyway. Hello Ramen noodles for Thanksgiving. HA. No, I’m not kidding. It was the only thing in the apartment when we got there on Thanksgiving and I didn’t have the energy to go find something else after a rather long day of travel and feeling ‘punky’, as we say. HA.

But I’ve skipped over some really cool stuff.  Back up! During our first ‘Advanced Open Water Course’ dive, we got to dive with a WHALE SHARK! WHOO HOO! I was over the moon. This is such an amazing creature. In case you didn’t know this creature is more whale than shark. It eats krill and plankton, has no teeth so isn’t dangerous at all.  But it is a fish (not a mammal). The one we saw was relatively small but still was 4 Meters long!! WOW. Magical. Our instructor took the pic. The two guys in the background are our ‘Instructors in training’, Andy and Nicolas. Laney and I were equally close to this amazing creature, though. What an experience. I have lots of video, but haven’t had the time or patience to cull through it all yet.

 

 

THEN, we did a deep dive – and I’m glad to report that Laney and I don’t get loopy at 30 Meters deep. HA.

FINALLY we also did a night dive. This was the 3rd dive of the day and I was EXHAUSTED. We started at about 630 pm when it was getting dark. It was the most amazing experience though. We were each given torches (FLASHLIGHTS), and we dove a while with those turned on. I have to say, perhaps due to my inexperience, I didn’t see much with the torches on. I’m sure there are certain things you are supposed to look for at night (like lobsters maybe?) but I didn’t see them. BUT, THEN WE ALL TURNED THE TORCHES OFF and the real fun began. First, you could still see a little bit. Maybe 10-15 feet so I could keep track of where Laney was and where our Instructor ‘in training’ was (with 3 dive masters, we had one for each pair of divers, so awesome) – but the best part was when you wave your hand through the water, or watch behind the fins of the person in front of you, you see STARS. OK it’s BIOLUMINESCENT ORGANISMS, but they are everywhere and it’s like swimming in the night sky with stars swirling around. SO SO SO SO COOL!

OK, so back to Thanksgiving. The next few days, really 7, were nothing. I was bed-bound except for absolute necessities like food and medicine.  Somewhat self-imposed, mind you. I just know myself – and if I rest when I’m sick, I get better. If I don’t, the sickness lingers and/or gets worse. And I know I didn’t want to get any worse. We were headed to Australia next and I know it’s no good to fly when you’re sick. I was very pleased, though, with the pharmacy. I showed up with a picture on my phone of Mucinex (or Mucinex D, I can’t recall), which is what I would take at home for my symptoms. An employee with very good English talked me though the options and found me something pretty much exactly the same as what I needed, she wrote down instructions, and sent me on my way. And it was all quite reasonably priced. DONE!

Fluids, rest, meds. That was it. And a run to the grocery one day (via tuk tuk, hilarious) and take out another day or two from the place literally 30 feet away, and we chilled and rested. I think Laney was pretty tuckered out too, and needing some rest. She gladly did nothing for the entire 7 days. We had some rainy days in there, anyway. And the one day I DID venture out for a walk on the beach, I was not impressed. A lot of people stay in Ao Nang to get a longboat to some of the remote beaches that can only be reached by boat. They are very pretty. And there is good diving from Ao Nang, I believe. But overall I didn’t love the area. Too backkpacker-ish and touristy in my opinion.

We did manage to pull together a nice dessert in Ao Nang. All bought at the grocery store. Whipped cream, strawberries, and CAKE!

I found this sign amusing regarding what to do in a tsunami scenario. I’m not sure you have much of a chance, unless you can get to some REALLY high ground. I read recently (based on this sparking my curiosity) that the tsunami that hit Indonesia was 50 METERS HIGH. WOW!!

After rest, we took the glorious journey back across southern Thailand, and a ferry to Koh Samui (where the airport is) and spent the night in a cheap hotel in town. I have to say, though, for $25 American, I could not BELIEVE how big and how nice our room was. Clean, fridge, big bathroom, two double sized beds, really nice! And around the corner a great beach and restaurant area. We had one of our best meals. Laney fell in love with Tuna Tar Tar, and had an amazing steak. I had fish that was OK, but the apps and cocktails made up for it. There was a pumpkin soup (I think) and the Tuna Tartar with avocado. And for DESSERT chocolate something cake, which was actually quite similar to that amazing chocolate cake with the chocolate sauce in the middle that they serve at Applebys. HA!  No, not really Thai food, but we were due for some comfort food.

 

 

 

 

The next day we took a taxi ride to the airport and we were OFF to Australia!!

This time, we had a 12 hour layover in the Singapore airport. There is SO MUCH to do there. A movie theatre, free tours of Singapore, TONS of shopping (which we took full advantage of ) and tons of restaurants. Also, these AMAZING resting areas with recline/lounge chairs. I took a full 2 hour nap during our stay and I swear I could have slept more but I think Laney was bored. HA. So great.

THEN, we arrive in Cairns! Our Australia Adventure Begins!! WHOO HOO

3 thoughts on “Thailand – Round 1 – Diving and WHALE SHARK!”

  1. I should have thought to tell you that I have a friend in Thailand you could have connected with but didn’t think of it! Darn…maybe next time!

    1. Funny you should say that. We are headed back to Thailand at end of Feb. This time in the Phuket area (which isn’t far from where we were in Ao Nang). Only for a couple days ‘on land’ before and after a liveaboard scuba trip. If he or she is in that area, perhaps it’s worth mentioning to her!? Thanks Nancy! Love you miss you!

  2. So glad you are blogging again. I’ve missed them. I was starting to get bored with my life and needed some travel excitement. So glad you recovered from your sickness. It’d be a shame to miss out on diving in Australia. I just can’t imagine how magical that night dive must have been. What an experience !!! You were lucky you had such a good student to teacher ratio. Why did you pick Thailand to get certified instead of Australia ? You are so smart to stay away from food carts. Continue to do so. Do you now prefer free lancing to formal tours ? Good that you are experiencing both. Well, travel on !!!!

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